On March 27th BBC Radio 5 live’s late night show ‘Up All Night’ featured an item with the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell. The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time and the relevant section begins from around 37:15.
Presenter Rhod Sharp introduces the item:
“US Secretary of State John Kerry interrupted his trip to Europe on Wednesday to rush to Israel. He wanted to urge the Palestinians and Israelis to extend their peace talks which seem to be faltering maid fears that Israel may scrap plans to free a final batch of Palestinian prisoners. With more on this, I’ve been speaking to Yolande Knell on the West Bank.”
Kerry of course flew to Amman in Jordan – not to Israel.
Yolande Knell opens:
“He broke away from this trip – President Obama’s talks in Europe on the crisis in the Ukraine. I think the fact he’s done this just underscores the seriousness of the threat to the peace talks that he sees. Ahm…the peace talks of course going on between Israel and the Palestinians – a process in which he has invested so much energy already – and so what he did, he broke away…ahm…and came to Amman just yesterday and he is supposed to have had talks last night – after having a meeting with the King of Jordan – with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We were told he was going to have a working dinner with him and he was supposed to speak to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by video conference or by phone as well.
And what US officials say is that his aim is to narrow the gaps in peace talks but really, if you speak to either side, they’ll say there’s been little real progress on the core issues but what’s thrown these talks into crisis right now…ahm…because they’re supposed to go on until the end of April – that was…when the US managed to broker a return to the negotiating table last year. But now we have the scheduled release of the fourth and final batch of more than a hundred Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails scheduled for this weekend. It was part of a deal that Israel struck with the Palestinians to get the peace talks restarted and what the Palestinians agreed was in return they wouldn’t take action against Israel at the UN…ahm… through the UN bodies to which they got access after their status was upgraded. And so…ah…really now Israel is saying it doesn’t want to go ahead with this prisoner release at the moment. There’s been talk of how the Palestinians should…ah…reach a framework agreement. We understand that the Americans are supposed to be putting a framework agreement to both sides before this happens. Ahm…and the Palestinians saying that if the prisoner release doesn’t happen as scheduled then they will perhaps go to the UN, take other means and the talks could very well fall apart.”
Knell makes no effort to inform listeners that the prisoner releases were from the very beginning tied to progress in the talks – which she admits has not been forthcoming. Neither of course does she bother to mention the incitement and glorification of terrorism which was seen during the Palestinian Authority organised celebrations of the three previous tranches or the cash hand-outs awarded to the released terrorists.
Sharp then asks:
RS: “Well but why would Israel not release the prisoners as scheduled?”
YK: “Well, these prisoner releases have been particularly divisive – in fact for both sides. What you’re talking about here is long-term Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of them have been convicted of serious offences like murdering Israelis so Israelis see them as convicted terrorists. On the Palestinian side, these are people who have sacrificed their lives in some way, with the long prison sentences that they’ve been through, for the nationalist cause.”
Knell’s promotion of the notion of terrorists convicted in a court of law as ‘heroes’ is of course not new: such portrayal was a hallmark of her reporting of previous prisoner releases and is part and parcel of the BBC’s policy of presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism – in some parts of the world.
She goes on:
“So already you have something which is a very emotive topic and then we’ve had Israeli families objecting to these releases – they’ve been staging protests – and what we’ve seen with all of the previous batches is that…ahm…those opposed within the Israeli coalition government, these have helped push through settlement announcements…ahm…which have threatened to undermine the peace talks repeatedly each time there has been a prisoner release. Ahm…and then you’ve got different people speaking out – different politicians – the deputy defence minister Danny Danon – a member of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party – threatening to resign if this prisoner release went ahead.”
In other words, audiences are herded towards the view that Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism does not “undermine the peace talks”, whereas Israeli building tenders most certainly do. Notably too, Knell completely neglects to inform listeners of the PA’s demand that in this particular tranche, Israel release convicted terrorists who are not residents of Palestinian controlled areas, but Israeli citizens.
“Another thing that the Israelis seem to be worried about is they want assurances that Mr Abbas won’t walk away from the peace talks straight after this prisoner release because – as I say – if you speak to the Palestinians they’ll say that there has been no progress on the core issues on Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees, settlements and borders; the things that they want to talk about. They say that Israel has side-tracked the talks talking about the Jordan Valley….ahm….the Palestinians say they won’t give up control of their eastern border of the West Bank and Israel’s saying they want to keep a military presence there for security reasons.”
Beyond the fact that Knell has invented a Palestinian “eastern border” which does not exist, clearly her presentation of discussions on the subject of the Jordan Valley – in other words a discussion about borders – as having “side-tracked” the talks is an obvious and partial promotion of the PA’s narrative. She goes on:
“And then there’s this other issue which has been so thorny as well, about recognising Israel as a Jewish state – that’s another one of Israel’s demands.”
The Israeli demand is of course for PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – not a Jewish state and as has been the case in all previous BBC coverage of this topic, no attempt whatsoever is made to inform audiences of the reasons for Israel’s demand and its significance as regards an end to future claims and hence its role in bringing about an end to the conflict. Sharp then says:
RS: “Let’s turn to the Arab League. Ah…here’s a thought: the Arab League of course has seemed a bit more modern in recent times but Arab leaders did what they’ve been quite used to doing in the past.”
Knell’s reply includes further promotion of the PA narrative through – inter alia – use of the offensive term “Judaisation of Jerusalem” and the depiction of Arab Israelis as “1948 Palestinians”.
YK: “Well, actually it all relates back to this Jewish state issue and it was one of the few points that the Arab leaders could all agree on after this two-day annual summit that’s just taken place in Kuwait. And the statement they ended with has actually strengthened Mr Abbas’ hand I think in many ways and made Mr Kerry’s job potentially more difficult because they came out with a statement saying that they totally rejected…ahm…. the call to consider Israel a Jewish state and then they also talked about other things like Jewish settlements, the Judaisation of Jerusalem – these kind of things. Ahm…they’d heard from President Abbas at the beginning of the summit when he said that Palestinians reject even discussing this issue of a Jewish state because for them it’s all caught up with the fate of Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes, who fled in 1948 when Israel became a state. Ahm….and also it’s about the rights of Arab Israelis – the 20% of the population of Israel who are these 1948 Palestinians as they’re also known – what of their rights if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state? So it is a very complicated subject and that’s one that the Arab League countries – 22 of them – seem to have united on in terms of backing President Abbas and his stance.”
Knell makes no effort to explain to listeners that Palestinian refugees were not for the most part “forced out of their homes” but in many cases were urged to leave by the five Arab armies which instigated a war Knell does not apparently find it necessary to even mention. She neglects to inform audiences that PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state in no way presents any kind of threat to the rights of Arab Israelis and she fails to make clear the ‘end game’ of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ of refugees.
After Knell speaks about other Arab League related issues, Sharp says:
“Let’s turn away from politics. Well we think we’re turning away from politics to the world of entertainment but it seems that they have got awfully mixed up here. Why are the Rolling Stones in trouble?”
YK: “Well, they’re not in trouble with everybody. Certainly the Israelis are delighted with them at the moment because this week the Rolling Stones were officially booked basically to perform their first ever concert in Israel. It’s gonna be on the 4th of June we’re told in Tel Aviv and later today the tickets are expected to go on sale online and big prices: well over a hundred British pounds up to about 500 British pounds I’m told. Ahm…but yes there have been all sorts of puns in the Israeli press. After months – even years- of speculation, Israelis can finally get some satisfaction it said in the Jerusalem Post. But the people who are outraged are the Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinians because of course there is this call for a cultural boycott of Israel and protest at the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel with the occupation being seen as illegal under international law.”
Besides erroneously presenting the BDS movement as “supporters of the Palestinians” rather than a politically motivated campaign to delegitimise and dismantle Israel, Knell mainstreams the so-called “cultural boycott”, promotes the partisan narrative of “Palestinian land” and fails to inform listeners of the existence of alternative views regarding “international law”, in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.
Not for the first time by any means we see Yolande Knell acting as a mouthpiece for unadulterated amplification of the PA narrative in this radio interview. The type of terminology she chooses to use, her presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism and her mainstreaming of BDS are part and parcel of the promotion of that narrative.
Notably too, this interview joins numerous other BBC reports in failing to even try to clarify to BBC audiences the rationale behind the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and why the issue of that Palestinian – and wider Arab – recognition is crucial to the success of any agreement.
With the negotiations having reached such a critical point, it is vital that the BBC adhere to its public purposes and begin clarifying that issue to audiences.